At times jazzy and smooth, at other times speaker-smashing sneaker-squeakin’ Electro, Rahiem Supreme’s 2020 release The Treacherous Charm has a little something for everybody. Part of the Washington DC-based rapper’s prolific pandemic streak of releases, The Treacherous Charm is sometimes humorous, always passionate.
Tracks on The Treacherous Charm are short, sweet, and end abruptly (upon first hearing them, somewhat jarringly). There’s a spontaneity to all of it which makes it feel fresh, a little raw. If you’re daunted by a 17-track album (c’mon now, it’s still only 30-something minutes), some standout tracks I recommend starting with include Shroomstories Freestyle (produced by Twelveam), Mewvsmewtwo (produced by Hvyarms), and the choppy glitch jam Futuristichybridpimp5000 (produced by Al Divino).
There’s a (forgive me) James Joyce quality to Rahiem Supreme’s dense lyrical imagery. Perhaps this is what had me immediately sending links to my Kool Keith loving friends. But Rahiem Supreme- the Grandmaster Splash- is in a surreal rap world of his own.
Pulling a quote from the introduction to The Man Wears Moschino: An Interview with Rahiem Supreme by Pete Tosiello:
If anything written here piqued your interest, you’re in for a good time.
An excellently recorded album, Samara Joy’s self-titled 2021 debut album brings mellow vitality in a way that only Jazz can. Joy’s vocals are dutifully in-line with the album’s study of vocalists Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, yet it’s this display of taste and artistic values shown through cultural touchstones which is more or less ‘the point’ of many records nowadays, within and outside of Jazz. This fixation with the past, in this case Vocal Jazz greats, has many a times become a trap of banality. But the musicianship of Pasquale Grasso (guitar), Ari Roland (double bass), Kenny Washington (drums), and Samara Joy create an incredibly playful and impassioned performance across the album’s curation of material.
In recent readings of both Byung-Chul Han’s The Disappearance of Ritual and Simon Reynold’s Retromania, I found both authors touching on ideas of ‘vertical time’ and French philosopher Roland Barthes’s musings of Japan as the ‘empire of signs’. In The Disappearance of Rituals, Han explores the imbalanced modes of play and work within the “genealogy of [rituals’] disappearance”, while Reynolds’s Retromania investigates the rise of retro-fetishism and the wane of modernist Western ideals of artistic innovation and displays of emotional urgency within art.
It had all just fallen in my lap, a book I had put off for years (Retromania) and one I bought on a whim (Rituals). Completing this coincidental trifecta was that Samara Joy had finally made its way to the top of my ‘to review’ folder; an album I had never heard before, so deeply entrenched in a musical tradition, igniting vague ideas of the ritual-esque nature of ‘standards’ within various music cultures and practices.
‘Work’, Han argues, is an increasingly dominant force in our modern times. “Because of the compulsion of work and production, we are losing the capacity to play. We only rarely make playful use of language; we only put it to work. It is obliged to communicate information or produce meaning. As a result, we have no access to forms of language that shine all by themselves. Language as a medium of information has no splendor. It does not seduce.”
As an album, Samara Joy is a playful experience. Its tonality, recording quality, and study of musical touchstones is symbol-rich. It is decidedly Jazz- recognizable, in a sense historical. There is no original compositions on the album, no overt dialogue espoused. But it is within this framework which play thrives, as there is nothing to be extracted, no ‘work’ to be done. The music is there to enchant the listener and then move on.
Highlights of the album include renditions of Stardust, (It’s Easy To See) The Trouble With Me Is You, and Let’s Dream In The Moonlight. Pasquale Grasso’s magnificent guitar playing blankets the audible spectrum with vast swaths of color, reinforced by Kenny Washington’s densely textural drumming. Ari Roland’s bass playing gleams with character, refusing to be resigned solely to functionality. As a whole, the record is greatly enjoyable, perhaps magical in the right ears.
Still reading Retromania at time of writing this review, I find myself investigating (and interrogating) my own values in regards to art and culture.
Is the value of artistic innovation outmoded? Too individualistic to allow for play? I don’t believe so. I would argue there is increasingly less individuality and originality within our atomized cultural climate of work. Mining the past (our own garbology) has been a function of production, an efficient way of ‘up-cycling’ material. This stands in contrast to both structured playfulness and innovation through emotional urgency. Only ‘additive innovation’ (as in innovation for the sake of creating innovation) has a cancerous snuff effect on art- cutting off an intrinsic function (this sense of ‘play’) with excess matter. For proof, simply look at the irrelevance of contemporary self-identified Avant-Garde artists. ‘Additive innovation’ is academic exhibitionism at its most flaccid, most soulless, and forgoes the playfulness of music which enchants and enthralls the listening audience.
In contrast, Samara Joy and company commit to playfulness within a musical standard, a ‘ritual’ of sorts. Going forward, I would love to see what this line-up of musicians could achieve if egged-on outside of the comfort zone of Jazz familiarity. The album is delightful, and worth the time for any fan of Vocal Jazz.
For fans of: Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae
Remixed film tracks in the days of Witch House, these wonkified reworks of Angelo Badalamenti and Ennio Morricone are representative of a time, a brief moment, standing on the edge of Twin Peaks’ new-found cultural ubiquity, when the previously cult show of the early 90s was only starting to be reworked into contemporary culture. While Twin Peaks’ influence on the Doom Jazz genre cannot go understated, it’s here, at the beginning of television streaming in the early teens, that we begin to see Twin Peaks looked to en mass.
Opening track Audrey’s Trance is a warped and wistful refashioning of Badalamenti’s Audrey’s Dance from one of many iconic R&R diner scenes. The EP as a whole serves as a reminder of the early 2010s’ click-clacky percussion and penchant for side-chaining. The fledgling embrace of a purely-digital tonality may now feel primitive (or video game-esque), but delights in the eerie and off-kilter soothing quality similar to that of Twin Peaks.
I Saw Her Die, a reworking of Ennio Morricone’s theme from the Giallo film Chi L’ha Vista Morire? (1972), ramps up in intensity. Its chopped and warped choir samples fitting for the gnostic aesthetics of a genre like Witch House- the track’s energetic uptick decidedly something out of the world of video games.
At 7 minutes 49 seconds in duration, the EP’s closing track Your Melancholick Touch is a decent Dark Ambient work to close out the album. A dark drag of digital noise stretched out in all its low bit-rate glory. The song’s singular refrain repeats until entropy and eventual unceremonious cut-off. This almost depiction of ‘non-time’ remains fettered to the medium’s boundaries- with Ambient recordings of any kind we may imagine we ‘get lost’, but we’re always brought back. There is a definitive, inevitable end to this which attempts to capture the infinite. Your Melancholick Touch, like most worthwhile Dark Ambient, attempts to depict angst-undefinable.
Witch House was in a lot of ways a digital fashion trend, a commercial quicksilver in our narcissistic consumer culture. But looking back, there can still be pleasant or even worthwhile gems. I would say The Tleilaxu Music Machine (now releasing work under Pink Abduction Ray) has produced one of these gems. But what emotional urgency captured here remains relevant today? By going backward, do we find ourselves? Or do we simply find something to be mined? Perhaps that can only be self-interrogated by the individual listener.
For fans of: Pink Abduction Ray, Sidewalks and Skeletons, Blank Banshee
Released in 2021 on the Polish label Positive Regression, Warsaw-based duo Mazut’s Sarajevo is a driving industrialized Techno EP free of the Industrial genre’s tackier connotations.
Reminiscent of the early works of Front 242, Sarajevo’s Industrial framework is a maximalist fantasy built from a plethora of minimalist motifs. The 4 song EP has a clicky analog tonality- plenty of warmth, with cold electronic drafts. Go-Go percussion is pressed into the ‘4 on the floor’ mold of Techno creating driving rigidity with dance persuasion.
Mazut articulate the intrinsic beauty of mechanical function. Countless motifs interlock and counteract in dense, lengthy tracks. In this way, Sarajevo comes across as a spiritual companion to Post-Modern artist Chris Burden’s sculpture Metropolis II, in which hundreds of 1:64-scale toy cars fly around an abstract model city in traffic purgatory.
Art, as artifice, will always have shortcomings if it attempts to react and express in a literal manner (this could be said for derivative works too). It’s important to let our environment speak through us, dictated not by our literal perception of our environment but by the environment’s emotional presence within ourselves. What makes a record like Mazut’s Sarajevo or Ouxh’s Machines in Care worthwhile is their ability to channel the expression of this presence through the appropriate thematic textures and musicality. This is only one tool in the kit of craft, but what does it say about the work itself?
The cohabitation of machine and human is perhaps the definitive trait of our current age. Humanity’s identity crisis between animal and mechanical has been pondered endlessly in sci-fi and horror works, and this doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. In the case of Sarajevo, somewhere between technological and organic, Mazut presents the human identity as it sounds.
Should you choose to watch the Metropolis II documentary, consider re-watching it with the original audio muted while playing this album. It’s incredibly fitting!
Warmth is a 2020 single release by artist Amanda Haswell under the alias Slow Blink. Based in Chattanooga, TN, Haswell’s slow hypnotic tape loops pull and morph themselves into a haze of melancholia. Warmth is, appropriately, a very warm track full of speaker buzz and fuzz. As with Haswell’s other releases comes the strong, controlling yet calming sensation of guided tranquility. At times introspective of the artist and the listener, and at times an external force- something as ancient as mother earth itself.
I can’t recommend it enough.
For fans of: Chelsea Wolfe, Grouper, Susumu Yokota
It’s sloppy, muddy, and all there. The potency of the Good Grief’s songwriting and dedicated performance is a cut above the rest. Git Gooder is the sole album by Asheville, NC Punk band Good Grief. Released in 2018, the songs featured on the album are short, sweet, and to the point. Git Gooder’s sweeter moments, such as Prom Song’s saccharine sincerity, are balanced so well and so seamlessly by the anger and discontent shown on tracks like Valentines 2018 and Brewery.
That said, second to closing track Brewery is the best evocation of the sullen rage one feels growing up in a beer tourism town such as Asheville, NC.
It’s hard to describe what makes Good Grief a cut above the rest, but I like to think it can be triangulated between the spirit of Crucifix, Husker Du, and early Weezer. Yeah, that’s right, I brought Weezer into this.
The Angular Records’ 2012 re-release of Eleven Pond – Watching Trees / Portugal single comes across somewhat ‘standard issue’ from the surplus of the recent past. Originally released in 1986, this moody synth-pop single was mostly distributed in Europe (according to Angular) and has yet to be caught by Discogs at the time of this articles release.
A-side track Watching Trees is milked for everything its worth over 3 versions on the re-release, though the Bedroom 4track Mix bookend version is “completely identical” to the opening Bedroom Demo version according to Bandcamp user Chrisdee. Percolating synth lines blip and bubble across an undercurrent of ghostly synth wails. Steady drum machine rhythms thump back and forth while vocalist James Tabbi pines for the incidental attention of being seen in a tree.
I fail to catch anything noteworthy or particularly distinct from b-side track Portugal. It all comes across a bit quaint, dated, or simply lacking. But b-sides never really were the star, were they?
Watching Trees lives on via digital giants of music discovery; an algorithmically transmissible Spotify track and on Bandcamp with inconsequential bonus versions of its a-side. It’s not a record that will change anybody’s life, but is worth interrupting one’s doom scrolling to check it out.
ロストエデンへのパス (The Path To Lost Eden) is the 2015 album by Vaporwave and Electronic psychedelic artists t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者 and Nmesh, respectively.
With a 2 hour runtime, this behemoth of a split album forces even the most reluctant listener into its steady molasses groove. Massive layers of synth pads blanket the album in a lush fog, a defining feature I would eventually come to view as an intense dedication to New Age flaccidity.
Interrupting ロストエデンへのパス’s slow serenity are moments of jarring tackiness. E.g. the Nmesh produced 心はシダであります, in which punchy synth flutes dominate all sonic space. Other notably grating moments include a scattershot of speech samples; a litany of gritty male monologues throughout the album and the standout soft-pornographic dialogue of 体熱.
Copy from the album’s Bandcamp page sells Nmesh’s use of speech sampling as the following: “Fans of Nmesh will recognize his narrative-like composition techniques, with use of quotes to maintain a sense of cohesion between the different tracks and new age vibes…”, which posits that the most finely crafted art in relation to this album is the art of good copy.
By track 9 I had wished the album had ended by track 2. Nmesh never quite breaks away from or expands upon this sound, which by the time the album nears the 1 hour mark I can only pejoratively call it a ‘formula’. Chord progressions feel like an afterthought with each snippet of speech acting like a marker of time- more so a palette obstruction than a much needed palette cleanser.
I couldn’t have been more bored by the time the Telepath b-side takes hold. Not the ideal mentality to be in for the slow textural works of Vaporwave, particularly for a near 7 minute long soundscape.
Tacky synth flutes carry over to the album’s b-side, much to my disdain. But while remaining sonically complimentary to the Nmesh a-side, Telepath creates a degree of vigor which had previously been lacking.
The third Telepath song 東京の夜 blends percussive folly and synthetic instrumentation into a lush and rewarding track not topped anywhere else on the album. The use of processed vocal samples are intriguing here, especially after so many milquetoast speech samples across the a-side.
I wish Telepath’s contribution could have been more of a saving grace to ロストエデンへのパス, yet still has the shortcomings of a repetitive hour long work by itself. Perhaps if released on its own my view of the Telepath b-side would be more complimentary, but what doesn’t fix an hour of slow synth pads is more of the same.
In total, ロストエデンへのパス (The Path To Lost Eden) acts as a work of New Age Exotica by two white men- Nmesh, or Alex Koenig from Kentucky, and Telepath, or Luke Laurila from Ohio- and which at times uncomfortably strays into Orientalism.
While individual tracks have at times been intriguing to me, the album itself fails to expand upon ideas and emotions within the aesthetics both artists have stringently adhered to. There’s plenty of other meditative works out there to be explored, don’t worry about getting through this one.
For fans of: Macintosh Plus, Mandragora, Cobalt Road
If relentless pounding Techno is your jam, you better get out the toast for this record. Not to be confused with the goofball festival that is cyber goth, Identity Process sounds Industrial in quite a literal way.
Bring The Noize opens the album with its rough and relentless mechanical tonality and textures. It’s beautifully hypnotic in a way that’s similar to a high functioning fully-automated assembly line. The whole album is like this, though finds its softer side (albeit still pounding) by closing track Devil-may-care.
Warsaw-born, London-based DJ and producer Martyna Maja started putting out music under the moniker VTSS since 2018, releasing their debut EP Self Will on the German label Intrepid Skin that same year. Identity Process is an exciting listen both as a stand alone record and as a release only 1 year into Maja’s trajectory as a producer. I look forward to hearing the many avenues which VTSS may go down in the coming years, and their interpretations and distinctions as an artist in an Electronic medium.
VTSS’s forthcoming 12” EP Projections is slated for an early 2022 release and is now open for pre-orders on Bandcamp. You can go stream 1 track from the album, Trust Me, right here.
Under the moniker Music For Sleep, artist Andrea Porcu’s 2021 release Music From A Sinking World is a beautiful and haunting work of melancholic tape loop ambience. Across seven vignettes or ‘short trajectories’ as music writer Peppe Trotta described it, Music From A Sinking World is like standing still in a cold marble gallery of a bombed out museum. The pieces themselves are distinctive and worthy of individual attention, yet contribute to the collective works’ melancholic and haunting potency.
The record is beautiful and haunting and everything else one could wish for in a masterful Ambient album. Originally recorded from March to October of 2020 and later recovered, each song on Music From A Sinking World takes a singular motif from an orchestral recording and amplifies subtle emotional qualities through a thick blanket of melancholia.
Acting like wind erosion on the listener’s perception of time, the work of Andrea Porcu feels at the behest of some greater current of the universe. Muddled melancholic loops spin like Ouroboros, bleeding out as reverb across any definitive point in the cycle. Andrea Porcu’s sculpting of tone and texture are beautiful, but it is the subversion of the listener’s perception of time, drenched in melancholy, which is the greatest takeaway of Music From A Sinking World.
Music is an art of movement, and so our perception of it is through the lens of time. How fitting is then that its end always sneaks up on the individual?
I really enjoyed Peppe Trotta’s description of this album, which is why I felt a need to quote them. “Brevi traiettorie” is just such a great way to describe the individual songs on Music From A Sinking World, so please go check out their review of the album on SoWhat Musica.
For fans of: Caretaker, William Basinski, Susumu Yokota